Monday, February 11, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Amy King

Amy King is the author of I'm the Man Who Loves You and Antidotes for an Alibi, both from BlazeVOX Books, and The People Instruments (Pavement Saw Press). She is the editor-in-chief for the literary arts journal, MiPOesias, an interview correspondent for miPOradio, and the editor of the Poetics List, sponsored by The Electronic Poetry Center (SUNY-Buffalo/University of Pennsylvania). Amy teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College. Her poems have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and she has been the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship for Poetry. She is currently editing an anthology, The Urban Poetic, forthcoming from Factory School. Please visit http://www.amyking.org/ for more.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Antidotes gave me a release and space to explode poetry more. I no longer felt compelled to write in a mode or for a specific audience, which can be a bit unnecessarily restrictive. Of course, being young and naïve, I put those restrictions on myself. Self-imposed restrictions need a release; a first book is a good start.

I also got invited to do readings, which are usually fun. I love the social aspect of readings, so getting those invites was a great boon brought to me by Antidotes.

2 - How long have you lived in New York, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I moved to NYC about eleven years ago and just this month moved to Long Island, which city-dwellers would declare is certainly not NYC, though I take a train down the street and am in Manhattan in about half an hour.

Living in a city such as NYC can only impact one’s writing. It’s unavoidable. I suppose all geography factors in, since we are not “we” by body alone; environment is the mother-of-us-all. I’m going to take the lazy route though and just say that Walter Benjamin’s essays on Charles Baudelaire and the “flâneur” and Baudelaire’s writing far better explore how a city affects a writer’s words. I can give you an abbreviated version though, if you press me: the multitudes can be exciting, unknown, stifling, and thrilling. They move and they move you, me, us, we. A city’s architecture can do the same: it changes daily, it confuses and supports, it undoes one’s thinking, breaks the line of vision, unsettles all sorts of notions of safety, and forces one to find strengths, within and elsewhere, one might not have explored before. If you’re lucky, the city collapses “within and elsewhere” and becomes an organic body, pleasured and riddled and full of strangers you inhabit.

Coincidentally, I’m in the process of editing an anthology, The Urban Poetic, forthcoming from Factory School. It’s an exciting project as I’m reaching out to people in lots of different cities as each city provides its own different invitations and articulations.

Gender exploration lines my work. Race also, though not as obviously. Any kind of box sounds a warning gong for me that I revel in handling. I don’t believe a simple anarchistic or destructive tact of those boxes is terribly productive. People subsist on and inside those boxes, and to simply shirk or destroy them alienates. Rather, subversions, of which there are many, go further and range in temperament and styles. I need to broaden my scope in such efforts, for sure.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I don’t have a book in mind. It seems many poets do. I work backwards, and that mostly makes me feel uncertain as I can’t rattle off a synopsis of a “project” like other writers. Rather, I primarily work through philosophical and societal lenses. I work in uncertainty, and while that makes it difficult for me and others to say what it is I’m doing – and perhaps dismiss my work out of hand – I long for this unknown, and my sincere openness to it, hell, even my lust for it, is the best modus operandi for me. Perhaps that’s the difficult part of what I do – I read to locate a place where I am happily confused on familiar footing, and trembling, try to locate the corner or shadow of some unfamiliar view/understanding/idea—and then I name it.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I’ve cut back on readings. They were productive for awhile because you really do stumble and hit in front of an audience when something doesn’t work. I subjected audiences to new poems regularly. But now that I’m focused on writing and teaching at the moment, I simply don’t have the time I did, though I really miss, as earlier mentioned, the social aspect of readings. I love seeing people and chatting after the “serious stuff.”

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

My theoretical concerns vary, though they generally deal with ontology and culture. I like to see ideology manifest practically. I don’t know the questions, aside what the schools of philosophy and politics continue to proclaim they are. These are tools or pointing fingers that help locate the real questions that enable us to subsist and exist on a moment-by-moment plane. Wittgenstein wrote, “To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life.” That is the question I’m always answering.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Editors don’t necessarily edit anymore. They mostly reject or accept. My jury is still out on whether that’s a good or annoying thing. I’m an editor. I have asked people to make changes. I have asked people to re-send because I felt their submission was truly close but not quite. But I have cut back on editing as it is a taxing, and sometimes, thankless work.

On the flip side, the editor of my books at Blazevox, Geoffrey Gatza, has been nothing but encouraging and enthusiastic, a faith which courses through my veins and lymph nodes and makes me confident about publishing.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

I’m only working on my third full-length now, and ever-so-slowly, but I find it an essential process. I don’t see the writing solely in terms of publishing a book because writing really has become a behavior, much the way people ritually return to churches or yoga or their studies to explore questions and answers, to locate some temporary place that is okay with uncertainty and query and naming what delights, corrupts, and makes us feel … closest to feelings.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

I just drank peach juice today, which far surpasses the vanity of the pear. I am a Georgia Peach, having eaten many as a child straight outta my grandmother’s backyard.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Be quick to forgive.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I don’t easily move between the two. I kick and buck. I’m lazy and don’t like explaining myself. I’m resisting this interview right now. I prefer poetry every minute. I rail and bang against the rules of prose, which I also happen to teach. I write in prose because we, as a society, agree this is the easiest, most transparent form of communication, but I’m no good at it and I’m no anarchist. That’s why I like my blog – I can fuck up there and tell anyone who corrects me thanks, but I really don’t care by midnight.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I write when I can. I usually want to write more than I can. Sickness and a busy schedule factor in. I don’t go for long though without putting pen to paper. I lament the seconds in between tasks that my journal isn’t handy. I often write phrases on my hand.

When I do sit down to read, I usually end up setting the book aside after fifteen minutes to scratch words in the sand for another fifteen. I’m good at keeping class schedules, but no good at a rigid writing schedule. I’ve simply turned it into a second nature or habit. Sometimes it’s a life-threatening allergy I can’t ignore. It’s my tic. I love my tic.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Tomaz Salamun. Derrida. Contemporary political theory. A range of pinot noirs. Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Various journals – recently, Forklift, Ohio and Hotel Amerika. Old notebooks from grad school. Poetry readings. Audio of Gertrude Stein.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Less restricted. More licensed. More sincere. Less concerned with pleasing myself and others. Diaphanous. Leading and misleading. A net. A parachute. Something that is no longer mine. It belongs to the letters “a- m- y k – i – n – g”.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?


15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?


16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Well, I’ve traveled, but I want to travel more. I must explore the streets of Bangkok, Tokyo, Zagreb, Planet Earth. I’m headed to Italy and Croatia this summer, which is why I’m tackling a double workload this semester.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I like the idea of being a detective, though you mostly hear seedy things about the real ones. For the moment, a detective.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I wanted to be a musician, but I truly lacked the necessary discipline early on. I’m pretty sure I mature at a slower rate than most. Quantifiably, I’m probably about eight to ten years behind most folks. I’m not kidding.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Damn. I don’t read like that. I read lots of books simultaneously. My attention is not short – it’s fragmented. Narrowed down, I’m currently reading The Political Brain by Drew Westen, This is Not Sufficient by Leonard Lawlor, and re-visiting Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

I don’t recall the last time I finished a book. Mind you, those listed might be what you’ll see me holding in a café. I also have loads of poetry books that ride with me and get dipped into for even just five minutes at a time. For example, I’ve just been looking at Sommer Browning’s new chapbook, Vale Tudo, which Jen Tynes generously shipped my way. It’s a timely book for me especially because it “takes place” on Long Island, where I have just transplanted myself. I dig it.

Oh god, films. Forget it. I’ve got The Bicycle Thief and Pandora’s Box sitting by the t.v. They’ll be there until spring break, at least.

20 - What are you currently working on?


I also recently finished an EP for H_NGM_N called, I Want To Make You Safe, which is forthcoming. Otherwise, titles are tucked away until they feel ready. I’m working at it. That’s all any of us can do. It.

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